Last week a group of leading public and private sector organizations descended upon the town of Devens, the former military base, with an eye towards the future, and towards solidifying Massachusetts’ position at the forefront of the robotics revolution. The group included senior leaders from MassDevelopment, the state’s finance and development agency, the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC), the state’s largest technology association and organizer of the Mass Robotics Cluster, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI-NE), the leading international organization for unmanned systems and robotics, the MITRE Corporation, Draper Laboratory, and others from the robotics community.
Top on the agenda was the creation of a controlled robotic test facility and Inter-Operability Playground with ground, air, water, residential, rural, indoor, and outdoor testing environments. Once created the facility would be a unique feature of the Massachusetts robotics landscape and would complement an existing regional testing infrastructure that includes the New England Research and Development (NERVE) Center, one of just three such NIST standard test facilities in the nation, operating out of UMass Lowell, and the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research (NUAIR) Alliance, one of only six such FAA designated test sites in the nation, with operations at Joint Base Cape Cod.
According to a MassTLC report on The Massachusetts Robotics Revolution, Massachusetts is home to perhaps the most advanced robotics cluster in the nation. At the heart of this cluster are 35 robotics focused research and development programs across ten institutions in the state. Another eight institutions across New England have programs in nearby states. With land, air, sea, mobile, stationary, autonomous, health, marine, agriculture, logistics, and more, the Massachusetts cluster is pushing the boundaries of intelligent automation in many fields.
Conceived as a robotics “Inter-Operability Playground” for supporting the multiple systems that must communicate and coexists in the future, the proposed facility would include lab facilities, indoor and outdoor controlled test space, a command and control center, and future demonstration area. The facility would provide individual labs for long-term use and/or temporary projects, with access to necessary test equipment, data archiving, hardware fabrication and repair assistance. Test areas would also include range sensors and data collection. Once platforms are “certified” as safe, the proposal envisions the possibility of the community of Devens becoming a public demonstration site for commercial applications.
Goals of the site include: Safety, Control and Situational Awareness, Instrumentation and Recording (analysis), and Education. In the spirit of public-private sector collaboration, and in recognition of the economic development value of robotics and unmanned systems in MA/New England, the three sponsoring organizations: AUVSI-NE, MassTLC and MassDevelopment signed a Memorandum of Understanding signifying their commitment to pursue this effort and promote the concept with their respective memberships and organizations.